Considering how beat up the Patriots have been on the defensive side of the football all year, two of their key players are actually at the top of the charts in the league in playing time this season.
An interesting note during this morning's links was an article from the Boston Globe's Shalise Manza Young, who pointed out the fact that both Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich finished the season having played more snaps than any other NFL defensive lineman, whether it be defensive end or tackle. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Jones finished the season having played a league high 1141 snaps at his position, while Ninkovich was right behind him with 1114 snaps.
The site also reveals that Ninkovich finished fourth in quarterback hurries this season for 4-3 defensive ends with 46, while Jones finished tied for third with 13-sacks in that same category.
It's an impressive sophomore season for the former star out of Syracuse who battled an ankle injury last season, which seemed to hamper him as his production dropped off from there. He had six sacks by the end of October, but had none in his next two games before getting hurt during their blowout win over Indianapolis. He was then inactive for his next two games but didn't seem like the same player when he returned and didn't muster another sack for the rest of the season. Fortunately he's come back and put together a terrific follow-up year that has him hopefully poised for a big postseason.
Jones told the Globe that he focused on strengthening his lower body during the offseason, and clearly the effort has paid dividends given the fact he's successfully made it through the year without any issues. He also told reporters that he could play better in the running game, and that's one of his focuses heading into the playoffs.
"My biggest thing is I'm going to work on what I need to work on, as far as my strengths and weaknesses. I feel like I can play better in the running game, that's what I'm going to try to help myself and get better," said Jones. "What I'm going to be doing is just a lot of self scouting. I'm going to be going over a lot of film, going back to game one. I'm going to go over a lot of film and try to figure out, 'What can I do to get better?' I'm just trying to get better so I can be more of an elite player going into the postseason."
Meanwhile Ninkovich, once again, has been a big part of the defense, and has been a key contributor rushing the quarterback. His 46 hurries has him up there among the league leaders, including the likes of Detroit's Ndamukong Suh (54) and Buccaneers standout Gerald McCoy (55).
Both will likely be critical components to the Patriots' postseason run, and after losing starters in Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Tommy Kelly defensively, fortunately Jones and Ninkovich have helped put New England in a good position to make a strong playoff push when they return to the field one week from Saturday.
Looking for Patriots playoff tickets? If so, they'll go on sale next Monday leading up to New England's Divisional Match-up next Saturday night at 8:15pm at Gillette Stadium.
According to the Boston Globe a limited number of tickets for the game will go on sale on January 6th, and can be ordered either through ticketmaster.com, or by calling 1-800-745-3000 beginning at 10am ET.
There will be a four ticket limit per person, and only Visa debit or credit card purchases will be accepted.
By the time the seats go on sale, fans will know exactly who New England will be facing. As it stands right now it will be either the Bengals, Colts, or Chiefs visiting Foxboro, as each of those three teams are among teams playing in the AFC Wild Card games this weekend.
The Patriots are idle after having earned a bye thanks to their win on Sunday over the Buffalo Bills.
Here are this morning's top stories:
Patriots start playoff run - Jeff Howe - Howe writes that the offense's commitment to the running game absolutely will translate to success in the postseason, and cites Sunday's game as a good example.
Pats focus on getting healthy - Mark Daniels - Daniels looks at how the Patriots endured a regular season with nine players on injured reserve, and now the upcoming days will be about rest as much as making improvements.
Patriots Report Card: Running game, resolve bury Bills - Ron Borges - Borges has his grades for this week's win over Buffalo, and writes that this win was more of a struggle than necessary, but once again the Patriots showed stiff resolve and unwillingness to cave in.
Five takeaways from Pats- Bills game - Jeff Howe - Howe has his five takeaways from this week, and feels that the Patriots are battle tested.
Browns interested in Patriots' Josh McDaniels - Ben Volin - Volin writes that while the Patriots haven't had to deal with a coaching change in 14 years, it's not stopping them from being in the mix as the Browns have requested to permission to interview McDaniels for their coaching vacancy.
Patriots marvel at Logan Mankins's toughness - Shalise Manza Young - Manza Young writes that it's part of NFL life to see a player need help getting off the field, but it's even more rare that it's Logan Mankins needing it. But Mankins fought through the pain and was a big part of Sunday's win over Buffalo.
Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones lead the field - Shalise Manza Young - Manza Young looks at the durability of Ninkovich and Jones, with the latter player having played more snaps than any other defensive lineman.
Tickets for Patriots playoff game go on sale Monday, Jan. 6 - Robert Burgess - Burgess writes that tickets will go on sale next Monay for the Divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium.
Where does Blount trade rank? - Mike Reiss - Reiss looks back at Blount's performance on Sunday which broke a 51-year-old franchise record for all-purpose yards, and hits the rewind button to the day the team acquired him. He also looks back at previous trades and tries to figure out where Blount's ranks in terms of significance.
Picked-up pieces from 4th-quarter review - Mike Reiss - Reiss breaks down film from the fourth quarter on Sunday and gives some good observations in this entry.
Picked-up pieces from 3rd-quarter review - Mike Reiss - Reiss also looks at the third quarter, which included the 3rd down punt by Brady on a 3rd-and-32 play.
Picked-up pieces from 2nd-quarter review - Mike Reiss - Reiss points out some notes from the second quarter, which saw Blount score his 36-yard touchdown on a 2 WR/ 2 TE/ 1 RB package, and was sprung by Marcus Cannon.
Picked-up pieces from 1st-quarter review - Mike Reiss - Reiss has his notes from the first quarter, and takes a look at a couple of big plays given up early on by New England's defense.
Patriots shuffle practice squad - Mike Reiss - Reiss notes a couple of player transactions on Monday, and updates the practice squad roster.
Top 5 Patriots storylines of 2013 - Field Yates - Yates notes the top five stories from this year, and he correctly leaves out the Aaron Hernandez arrest and release from the team.
Quick hits from the locker room - Field Yates - Yates has notes from the locker room yestrday, and noticed a walking boot in front of Mankins' locker.
Four predictions for 2014 - Field Yates - Yates has four predictions for 2014, and he believes the Patriots will play in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Why these Patriots are 'Man' Enough for Super Bowl Run - Mike Petraglia - Petraglia writes that he's seen enough, and believes these Patriots are Super Bowl Calibur.
New faces lead Patriots to same success - Rich Garven - Garven looks at the group of players who helped the Patriots win at least 12 games for the fourth straight season.
Waiting game begins for Patriots - Glen Farley - Farley writes that the Patriots are now stuck waiting to find out who their next opponent will be after earning a first round bye thanks to Sunday's win over Buffalo.
Apparently in Cleveland they've seen what has transpired this season here in New England, and they seem to be potentially hoping they can lure Josh McDaniels there so he can bring along some of the Patriots' magic with him.
According to Cleveland.com's Mary Kay Cabot, the Browns have asked the Patriots permission to interview offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for their head coaching vacancy, which comes after the team fired Rob Chudzinski after one season.
The team held a press conference on Monday and Browns CEO Joe Banner, along with team owner Jimmy Haslam, were asked about justifying the decision considering all the roster turmoil they encountered this season. They were injury-riddled for much of the year, which included having little stability at the quarterback position after losing Brian Hoyer for the season with a knee injury, as well as dealing with concussions with Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden.
However, as we know here in New England, the Patriots have lost starters on both sides of the football this season and yet finished 12-4 and have the number two seed heading into the postseason. Back in 2008 after losing Tom Brady in the opening game, McDaniels was also able to make adjustments and helped guide then back up quarterback Matt Cassel through the season and as a result New England went 11-5 that year.
Banner hinted that he's watched other teams deal with "similar situations" while still improving, which didn't happen for Cleveland this year and obviously fits exactly what's transpired this season with McDaniels and the Patriots.
"I think it's just what we said and if you look around, you'll find similar situations to what you're describing and teams that improved as the year went on," Banner told reporters when asked about the decision to make the move despite their personnel issues. "I don't want to walk through all of the teams around the league, but I think that the improvement that should be happening during the season, regardless of the talent level that you're at, is something that you have to be able to see.
"It's something that's happening on many of the rosters. I think you can argue this year that on every roster with a first-year head coach in spite of very difficult quarterback situations and each of the quarterbacks on a number of those teams. That's just what you need to see."
Haslam told reporters that he believes with the amount of talent in the upcoming draft, as well as the number of picks the team has, the Browns are in position to turn things around in a short period of time. While they may not be at the level personnel-wise that they'd like to be, it sounds like he believes they're not far off.
"We like the talent in the draft of 2014," said Haslam. "We have 10 picks: two firsts, a second, two thirds and two fourths. We think that free agents, both free agents we signed and free agents we've picked up along the way, have considerable talent and ability. Do I think we're where we need to be talent-wise now? No, I don't. Do I think we can get there over the next couple three years? Yes, I do."
McDaniels, who graduated from Canton McKinley High and is a John Carroll University Graduate, suddenly finds himself in a situation that will likely be one he may at least consider. He's getting the opportunity to coach his home town team, and he would be coming into a situation where he'd be working with a general manager in Mike Lombardi, with whom he has a longstanding relationship with.
Should Hoyer return, McDaniels would have a player he has familiarity with who might be enough to help get them started in moving in the right direction. Most mock drafts seem to lean toward Cleveland strengthening their offensive line and their defense, although others explore the possibility of bringing in a quarterback like Fresno State's Derek Carr or Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.
Either way, it's going to be an interesting situation to watch, although there haven't yet been reports on whether or not he'll even agree to interview with them. Some local experts including ESPN BOSTON's Mike Reiss even wondered if McDaniels could one day succeed Bill Belichick here in New England as head coach when Belichick decides to hang it up. But considering he now has the opportunity to coach the team he grew up rooting for, it would be tough to blame him if he accepts it.
Here are this morning's top stories:
Schedule for 2014 NFL postseason - Matt Pepin - Pepin lays out the schedule for the upcoming playoff games.
Brady makes nice Plan B for Patriots - Obnoxious Boston Fan - In this piece he leads off with saying that anything that says "this isn't easy" can apply to the 2013 Patriots.
No matter the challenge, Patriots have experience, resilience on on their side - Erik Frenz - Frenz writes that while the end result was the same, the means to the end have been different.
Who's the preferred divisional round opponent for Patriots? - Adam Kaufman - Kaufman ponders who the Patriots may play next week.
5 takeaways from the Patriots' second game against the Bills - Zuri Berry - Berry has his five takeaways from yesterday, including his thoughts on the health of some players and the toughness going along with it.
The real season begins now for the Patriots - Christopher Gasper - Gasper writes that now, the real season begins, and the story of the 2013 Patriots will be written.
Julian Edelman reflects, a bit, on breakthrough year - Anthony Gulizia - Gulizia writes that Edelman's road has been a long, winding one and he's had quite a season.
Bills can't weather Blount force - Michael Whitmer - Whitmer writes that of all the versatile playmakers the Patriots have on offense, LeGarrette Blount might have been well down the list of candidates expected to shatter the team's single-game all-purpose yardage record.
Rain falls, but so do records for Stephen Gostkowski - Michael Whitmer - Whitmer files his notebook this morning, and writes that setting two franchise records wasn't on the mind of Gostkowski during Sunday's game.
Patriots stock report: LeGarrette Blount has a milestone day - Erik Frenz - Frenz has his weekly "stock report", with Blount having had quite a performance Sunday.
Pats a dangerous team in wide-open AFC - Karen Guregian - Guregian writes that the Patriots took care of business by beating Buffalo, and she feels they might just surprise us in the postseason.
Julian Edelman joins Pats' century club - Dan Ventura - Ventura has an article on Edelman, who hit the 100-catch mark against Buffalo yesterday.
Tom Brady: 'Never been part of a year like this' - Jeff Howe - Howe has comments from Brady, who feels the Patriots are fortunate to be in this position.
Borges: To be perfectly Blount - Ron Borges - Borges writes that the Patriots played like road graders, and the man driving that bone-crushing machine was LeGarrette Blount.
Buckley: Death, taxes and 12 wins - Steve Buckley - Buckley has his column for this morning and gives his thoughts on this team for this season.
Tom Brady proud of his team and the accomplishment thus far - Karen Guregian - Guregian has comments from Brady, who is proud of what his football team has been able to do this season.
Snaps: Season-high 33 for Blount - Mike Reiss - Reiss has this morning's snap counts, which saw Blount play the most he has all season Sunday.
Snaps: Siliga & Jones take lead role at DT - Mike Reiss - Reiss has the defensive snap totals from yesterday, which saw Silga step up during Sunday's win.
Stat check: Patriots 2013 season - Mike Reiss - Reiss has the final rankings for the Patriots in different categories, including third down defense, turnover differential, and more.
Sources: McDaniels a Browns candidate - The rumors are beginning that Josh McDaniels could be a possibility to be the next head coach of the Browns.
Tom Brady recaps his punt, playoffs - Field Yates - Yates has comments from Brady from this morning's appearance on WEEI, who called his punt during yesterday's game "crappy".
Patriots have to like chances in playoffs - Mike Reiss - Reiss writes that while it has seldom come easy for the Patriots, this group of players is feeling good about their chances in the postseason.
Julian Edelman gave Patriots critical boost - Field Yates - Yates writes that Edelman finished with career highs in catches, yards, and touchdowns, and has been an important part of New England's offense.
Brady on D&C: Pats 'fought through adversity' - WEEI has comments from Brady's interview on Monday in his weekly radio appearance.
What we learned: Tampa Two helped change fortunes of 2013 Patriots - Christopher Price - Price has his weekly "What We Learned" piece, which talks about how Aqib Talib and LeGarrette Blount have impacted this team.
PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK: Blount carried team, Bills defenders on back - Glen Farley - Farley files his notebook this morning, which leads off with Blount's performance while also touching on Edelman and Gostkowski's milestones.
LeGarrette Blount helps Patriots clinch bye - Jennifer Toland - Toland looks at the performance by Blount, who got an endorsement from teammate Aqib Talib when the Patriots initially inquired about trading for him prior to his arrival in New England.
Well, for now we know at least one portion of the Patriots' postseason.
As it stands right now the league announced the dates of the Divisional playoff games, and the Patriots will get the nationally televised spot with an 8:15pm ET game at Gillette Stadium on January 11th.
The only question now will obviously be who they'll play, and it's narrowed down to between three opponents. They'll either get a visit from the Colts, Bengals, or the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Colts earned the 4th seed in the AFC and will face the Chiefs (the 5th seed) at Lucas Oil Stadium next Saturday at 4:35pm. The other AFC match-up will take place next Sunday between the San Diego Chargers (the #6 seed) who will visit the Cincinnati Bengals (the 3rd seed) at 1:05pm.
Both New England and Denver have the Bye and will be idle next week, and the Patriots will face the higher seeded team that advances, while the Broncos will play the lower-seeded team.
Should the Patriots advance, every fan in New England will likely be cheering on Denver's opponent, who if they were to beat Peyton Manning's team at Sports Authority Field could set up an AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium.
But first things first. The Patriots need to get the job done in the Divisional round. This is what Brady said after Sunday's win is what they've worked all season for, but it won't matter unless they continue playing well.
"Yeah, you play hard to put yourself in a position and we're how now in this position and it's a good spot to be in," said Brady. "But we have to go out there and take advantage of it. Anything can happen if you don't go out there and give it your best. We're going to try and be at our best in a few weeks."
One bright spot to take away from Sunday's game against the Dolphins was the fact the Patriots' defense saw one of their better performances of the last three weeks getting after the quarterback, finishing with four sacks along with five quarterback hits on quarterback Ryan Tannehill during their 24-20 loss in Miami.
Going back to week 11, the Patriots finished with 2, 1, 1 respectively in terms of sacks coming into Sunday's contest, so the fact they were able to get after Tannehill as much as they did as well as bring him down four times was a big improvement. Sealver Siliga, Kyle Arrington, Chandler Jones, and Joe Vellano each accounted for a sack in contributing to that total.
However, they've also done a good job at putting hits on opposing quarterbacks in recent weeks, and Sunday was no exception. The defense had five hits on Tannehill, with Chandler Jones getting two, while Vellano, Arrington, and Siliga each had one.
Jones' sack total this season is up to 11.5, which is nearly double the 6 he finished with in 2012. He was banged up last season and played in just 14 games, although he's clearly ahead of last year's pace through 14 games. The sack he had Sunday was his first since week 12 against Denver.
Overall with the way it stands right now, Jones currently leads the team with 21 total quarterback hits on the season, with Rob Ninkovich coming in next with 15. Ninkovich didn't register one on Sunday, the first time since going back to their week nine match-up against Pittsburgh that he failed to get a hit on the opposing quarterback. He has six sacks on the season, but was blanked in that category Sunday against Miami.
Getting pressure and disrupting Joe Flacco is going to likely be a big key to this weekend's contest, especially playing on the road. Baltimore's a loud place to play and it's a building where the Patriots have struggled in recent years, including a 31-30 loss on the road there last season. That ended up being a memorable night for Ravens receiver Torrey Smith, who fought back the emotion of the loss of his younger brother less than 24 hours after he died in a motorcycle accident. Smith went out and scored two touchdowns and caught six passes for 127 yards during the Ravens' win, which dropped the Patriots to 1-2, putting them below .500 for the first time since Week 1 of 2003. Baltimore also finished with 503 total yards offensively.
LAST YEAR'S MEETING IN BALTIMORE WAS MEMORABLE FOR THE WRONG REASONS:
That game also featured the replacement referees, which fans may recall ended on a game-winning kick that had followed a controversial pass interference call against Devin McCourty.
There were 28 penalties called that night, 10 on New England, 14 on the Ravens.
"I'm not going to comment about that," said Belichick after the game when asked about the officials. "You saw the game, what did we have, 30 penalties called in the game?"
As the officials were leaving the field, Patriots coach Bill Belichick grabbed one of them by the arm with the intention of trying to get his attention to question whether Ravens kicker Justin Tucker's game-winning field goal, which was barely inside the right upright, was under review. That ultimately led to a fine of $50,000.
BELICHICK LOOKS BACK AT THE DOLPHINS' 4th & 5 CONVERSION:
One of the critical plays in Sunday's game was Miami's conversion on a 4th-and-5 that ultimately allowed them to win the game, and Belichick called it a close play that the Patriots were inches away from stopping.
"Well, it's close. It's close," said Belichick during his conference call. "Obviously we just have to play it a little bit better. They didn't get the first down by much, but they got it. We just need to do a little better job on that play."
"I think it definitely could have been played better. Like I said, we were there. We had two guys there making the tackle right there at the sticks and he was able to fall forward for the yard. I mean, had we gotten there a step quicker, it was obviously a close play – that they made – but we were pretty close. We just need to play a little bit better. There were several things on the play that we could have just been a tiny bit better, might have made a difference. It just wasn't quite enough."
BRADY APOLOGIZES FOR S&*TY COMMENT MONDAY NIGHT:
Shalise Manza Young of the Boston Globe caught an interview by Jim Gray on the Westwood One/MNF pregame show with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. During the interview Brady apologized for his language following New England's road loss in Miami on Sunday.
"It was a word I wouldn't want my sons to use," said Brady regarding his comment. "I was still pretty frustrated when I went to the podium."
Brady walked out of the interview room shortly after making the comment after Sunday's game, which got on live TV before they could censor it.
FORMER PATRIOTS QB CASSEL DRAWING PRAISE:
ESPN'S John Clayton had some positive things to say about former Pats QB Matt Cassel, who had a big outing against Minnesota on Sunday.
Said Clayton, "It's starting to look as though Matt Cassel is the best quarterback to emerge in Minnesota this year. Cassel completed his first nine attempts in blowing out the Eagles and he has had the five longest completions of the season for the Vikings. Cassel threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns Sunday."
Cassel has had a tough year in Minnesota, but has fought through it and now appears to have the job firmly in his grasp with two games left this season.
MORE DETAILS COME OUT ON SOLDER'S INJURY:
After leaving Sunday's game with another concussion, Bill Belichick revealed on Monday that the injury happened in the fourth quarter, where Solder may have been kicked or taken a knee to the head.
"It looked like he got either kicked or kneed or something at the end of the play down there in the fourth quarter," explained Belichick. "Kind of down there on our end, maybe around the 25-yard line, something like that. We'll take a look at everybody today, see where everybody's at the day after the game and go from there."
When asked if Solder flew home with the team, Belichick didn't have any comment.
"I don't think I really want to make any comment about what anybody did or didn't do," said Belichick. "That gets into another area."
ESPN BOSTON's Mike Reiss caught the play on film and gave his take on what happened:
"On Solder's final play, he was blocking end Olivier Vernon on an outside rush, and as Vernon bended around the edge, Solder got low and pushed him to the ground," writes Reiss. "In the process, Solder fell to the ground and Dolphins end Cameron Wake, coming from the other side, appeared to make contact with his helmet as he fell"
"Solder took himself off the field and was seen on the CBS broadcast speaking with team doctor Thomas Gill and members of the team's athletic training staff."
Logan Mankins moved over from his spot at left guard to left tackle in his absence, while rookie Joe Kline filled in at left guard in Mankins' place.
TIMETABLE SET FOR GRONKOWSKI SURGERY:
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has yet to have surgery on his right knee after tearing his MCL and ACL during New England's battle with the Browns last weekend, but it sounds like the timetable is finally in place to move forward to get that taken care of.
According to the Boston Globe renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews will be performing the procedure in about two weeks, with surgery reportedly having been delayed to this point due to swelling in his knee thanks to the brutal hit Browns safety T.J. Ward put on him on that fateful third quarter play.
If everything goes according to plan, it sounds like Gronkowski should be ready for the start of the 2014 regular season.
ON TO THIS MORNING'S LINKS:
Even Tom Brady falls short - Jeff Howe - Howe has an article on Brady, who even after five game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime this season wasn't able to pull it off again in Miami.
Callahan: Patriots face ugly reality - Gerry Callahan - Callahan has some doom and gloom this morning, declaring the Patriots dead and saying, "They're doomed".
Get riled up again, it's Pats-Ravens - Mark Daniels - Daniels looks at the upcoming match-up between the Ravens and Patriots, which historically has always been a battle.
Rob Gronkowski surgery near; likely ready for '14 - Shalise Manza Young - Manza Young files her notebook this morning, and writes that the timetable for Rob Gronkowski's knee surgery is set, and the tight end will reportedly undergo a procedure at the start of the new year.
Patriots' margin for error is razor thin - Christopher Gasper - Gasper files writes that, "The scales of football justice tipped back to even for the Patriots on Sunday in Miami. The balance between truth and fairness restored at their expense."
5 takeaways from the Patriots-Dolphins second game - Zuri Berry - Berry has five takeaways from Sunday's loss, with one big one being the state of the defense.
Getting to know the Ravens - Field Yates - Yates has his weekly look at the opposing team, with the Ravens obviously in the spotlight this week.
Belichick on red zone, key plays on D - Mike Reiss - Reiss has comments from Belichick's conference call on Monday, where the coach talked about their red zone woes and what happened on Miami's go ahead-drive.
Revisiting Nate Solder's head injury - Mike Reiss - We highlighted this entry above, but Reiss has more on how Solder sustained his second concussion and comments from Belichick on what may have happened.
Picked-up pieces from 1st-quarter review - Mike Reiss - Reiss begins his film review from Sunday and takes a look at how the Patriots decided to match-up against Miami personnel-wise.
Picked-up pieces after 2nd quarter review - Mike Reiss - Reiss looks back at the 2nd quarter and writes that one interesting wrinkle is the fact the Patriots used Aqib Talib more on the inside part of the field, and Ryan Tannehill answered the challenge.
Picked-up pieces from 3rd quarter review - Mike Reiss - Reiss looks back at the third quarter and points out some sloppy tackling by cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.
Picked-up pieces from 4th quarter review - Mike Reiss - Reiss has his look at the fourth quarter, which highlighted an overall tough day for Patriots safety Steve Gregory.
What we learned: Missed opportunities lead to surprising loss to Dolphins - Christopher Price - Price has this week's "What We Learned", including the fact that receiver Julian Edelman is on an amazing pace so far this season.
New England Patriots' 2013 season a test for fanbase that ranks 2nd in loyalty, but 3rd most unstable, according to study - Nick O'Malley - O'Malley has some interesting data from a recent fan study.
New England Patriots' struggles continue on the road - Rich Garven - Garven looks at the Patriots' season-long struggles on the road after they missed an opportunity to clinch the AFC East title.
Patriots' defense falters in loss to Dolphins - Rich Garven - Garven files his notebook this morning which leads off with note on New England's defense, which failed to produce a turnover for the second straight week.
PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK: More concerns for injured Nate Solder - Glen Farley - Farley writes that for the second time in as many weeks, the Patriots have concerns about the health of Nate Solder.
Sunday's loss was a game that left fans with a reminder that the Patriots can still figure out a way to move the chains between the 20's, but when it comes down to scoring points, they clearly have a rough road ahead now that Rob Gronkowski is lost for the season.
Down in Miami the Patriots received huge contributions from Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, who each had a terrific performance against a Dolphins defense that weren't able to stop either player. Edelman finished the afternoon with 13 catches for 139 yards, while Amendola finished with 10 catches for 131 yards. Comcast Sports New England pointed out after the game it was the first time in franchise history that the Patriots had a game where a duo of receivers finished with at least 10 catches and 125 yards in a single game.
Not a bad outing by a team trying to move on without one of their biggest offensive weapons, especially now that Gronkowski likely spent the day watching this one unfold on television. The only problem was, despite racking up 453 yards of offense, New England was only able to muster 20 points against a tough Dolphins defense.
The Patriots were close, with Brady putting the ball in Amendola's hands in the end zone on their final drive for what would have been the potential game-winner for New England. Amendola had it for a moment, with the ball locked in on his helmet as he fought with Miami's Michael Thomas to try and pull it down. Instead Thomas got the better of him, and knocked it out of Amendola's grasp.
"I'd like to have that one," Amendola said after the game.
Down in the red area was one of the biggest problems of weakness Sunday, with the Patriots only managing a touchdown on one of their four opportunities. To make matters worse, Tom Brady had his worst game of the season down inside the red zone Sunday, finishing just 2-of-11 passing (18%), including 0-for-6 on their final drive.
It's significant to note because earlier this season other than their last-second comeback win against the Saints and their other comeback win over Miami back in week eight, the absence of Gronkowski has obviously hurt them. Before Gronkowski's return against the Jets, Brady finished four out of those five games with completion percentages of 43% or less down in scoring territory, while with Gronkowski on the field, Brady was 16-of-25 (64%) passing with 8 touchdowns in the red zone. Without him, he's just 22-of-51 (43%) with 10 touchdowns. While the latter total has a higher scoring number, that also came over the course of eight games compared to just the five games where Gronkowski was on the field when Brady had those opportunities.
Last week after Gronkowski went down Brady mustered four completions on seven attempts (57%) including 2 touchdowns, so obviously they have enough weapons to score and get the job done. But against Miami, it just didn't quite come together.
“We came up short in every area," said Belichick on Sunday. "I mean nothing was really good enough. Yeah, there were some good things, but nothing was really good enough. We’ve just got to do a better job all the way around; offense, defense, special teams, coaching, playing, blocking, tackling, throwing, catching, everything. We’ve just got to do a better job. I don’t think any of it was bad, but it just wasn’t good enough. Or if they were a little bit better…however you want to look at it.”
Brady after the game was about as upset as fans have ever seen him, and it lasted all of two questions before he stormed out.
“Yeah, we didn’t do a good job getting in the red area," said Brady after the game. " We didn’t do a good job finishing drives. So, you know, turns out coming up on the short end of the stick. Just wasn’t a good day, just couldn’t make enough plays when we had a chance to.”
“We got plenty of chances all day," Brady said later when asked about that last drive. "We make some good plays and then make plenty of [expletive] plays.”
Now the Patriots will have to try and regroup against a tough Baltimore team that will likely present another tough challenge to this offense. After seeing Pittsburgh beat the Bengals on Sunday night, New England remains in the mix for the number two seed. However, beating Baltimore is going to be a big key to trying to at least hopefully keeping that a possibility. The Ravens will be coming off of a short week but will have the advantage of playing at home after taking on the Lions in Detroit later tonight.
Either way New England will spend this week trying to work on making sure they're better in the red area than they were on Sunday. They've already seemed to figure out how to at least sustain drives and keep the chains moving. Hopefully next week they can start getting better about putting points on the board because moving forward it's only likely going to get tougher. v LACK OF FOCUS ON VEREEN DOESN'T MAKE A LOT OF SENSE:
Looking back on this game, it's interesting to note that Shane Vereen wasn't a big part of this offense on Sunday in Miami. Last week Vereen finished with 12 receptions on 17 targets for 153 yards, while also grabbing a 50-yard reception against the Browns, which ranks as the 4th longest pass play of the season by New England's offense. On Sunday he was targeted seven times with just 3 receptions for eight yards. Without seeing the "All-22" film it's hard to wonder why he wasn't a bigger part of the offense, especially down in scoring territory. Hopefully offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the Patriots coaches are wondering the same thing as they start planning on how to put up points against a Ravens team that will likely be another tough match-up.
SOLDER SUFFERS SECOND CONCUSSION:
Lost in yesterday's loss was the fact that the Patriots suffered another injury to one of their critical players, with left tackle Nate Solder suffering his second concussion in eight days. During his absence Logan Mankins moved over and filled in, with rookie Josh Kline jumping in at left guard for Mankins.
“That’s what we needed (yesterday),” Mankins told the Boston Herald. “One of our guys went down. I’m not sure what happened yet, but that was the plan all week. If something was to happen, it was my job to go out there. I went out there, and I don’t recall screwing anything up, so that’s always good.”
Solder suffered two diagnosed concussions in 2011 and has now seemingly suffered two this season, having missed his first career practice last Wednesday. We'll have to see how that affects his availability for this week, but the fact Tom Brady's blindside protector is even in this position is definitely a concern heading into the final two games of the regular season.
NUMBERS YOU MAY NOT HAVE KNOWN:
- Tom Brady finished with over 300 passing for the 59th time in his career on Sunday, which came after achieving the same mark last week where he moved into 5th place all time.
- As mentioned previously, Comcast Sports New England pointed out after the game that Sunday's performance by Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola marked the first time in franchise history that the Patriots had a game where a duo of receivers finished with at least 10 catches and 125 yards in a single game.
- We talked about the fact that the Patriots finished with their worst performance in the red zone this season. We'll take it a step further, the Patriots didn't finish a game in 2012 where Brady finished with a completion percentage in the red area of less than 50%. That's happened six times this season.
- The Patriots didn't have a receiver with a reception of over 30-yards on Sunday, which marked the first time that has happened this season since, you guessed it, the same thing happened in week eight against the Dolphins during the Patriots come-from-behind win over Miami back in week eight.
- To take it a step further,the Patriots didn't have a pass from beyond 30-yards in five of New England's first eight games. Obviously the absence of Gronkowksi hurts their big-play ability, especially considering the attention he demands when he's on the field.
- After having what has been considered one of the best seasons of his career, Stephen Gostkowski's missed field goal from 48-yards was just his third miss of the season. He's perfect from 39-yards or less this season (19-of-19), but he's now 8-of-10 from 40-49 yards after yesterday's missed attempt. He's also 5-of-6 from 50-yards or more.
- Julian Edelman came up big on third down for New England yesterday. Tom Brady finished 8-of-13 passing on 3rd down Sunday, with Edelman accounting for half of his completions with 4 receptions on 5 targets along with three first downs.
- Sunday's loss dropped Tom Brady to 6-6 all time in Miami. So much for the former Michigan standout enjoying the limelight in Florida, as it remains a place that he's lacked success during his incredible career.
- Kyle Arrington recorded his first career sack on Sunday, which came in the second quarter on a corner blitz to take down Ryan Tannehill.
- Sunday's performance put Tom Brady over 4,000 yards, with Brady currently with 4,049 on the season. It's the sixth time in his career he's reached that mark.
- Brady also moved past John Elway into fifth place all-time on the NFL's career completion list with 4,150. The former Broncos quarterback has 4,123 career completions.
ON TO THIS MORNING'S LINKS:
Patriots run out of comeback magic against Dolphins - Shalise Manza Young - Manza Young has her game story from Sunday, and writes that with 1:15 to go the Patriots seemingly had the best possible scenario for a comeback before falling short.
Let's face it, Patriots simply are not that good - Dan Shaughnessy - Shaugnessy has his snarky column for this morning, and writes that the hats and t-shirts were ready to be placed at the locker of each player, but it didn't go their way this time around.
Patriots defense just wilted in Miami heat - Ben Volin - Volin has his "On Football" column this morning and writes the Dolphins got the better of the Patriots when it came to halftime adjustments on Sunday.
Red zone was a problem area for the Patriots - Michael Whitmer - Whitmer looks at New England's red zone woes yesterday.
Stephen Gostkowski kicking himself after loss - Michael Whitmer - Whitmer files his notebook which leads off with comments from Gostkowski, who wasn't happy with his performance Sunday.
At this point, Patriots are looking defenseless - Ben Volin - Volin writes that the defense is looking like a shell of its former self.
Without Gronk, Patriots zone out where it counts - Karen Guregian - Guregian has her column this morning on New England's red zone struggles, which was obviously an issue on Sunday.
Patriots notebook: Solder hurt again as Mankins moves to LT - Jeff Howe - Howe files his notebook this morning which leads off with the loss of Nate Solder during Sunday's game.
Bittersweet day for Patriots' receivers - Karen Guregian - Guregian looks at the performances of New England's receivers yesterday, who despite big days from Edelman and Amendola they obviously still lost the game.
Play of the Game: Patriots allow Dolphins to go fourth - Matt Porter - Porter looks at the fourth down conversion in the final minutes New England allowed that led to the go-ahead touchdown for Miami.
Best & Worst from Patriots vs. Dolphins - Ron Borges - Borges has his best and worst from yesterday, including some bizarre categories in this entry.
Miami 'D' silences Shane Vereen - Matt Porter - Porter looks at the fact Miami took away Shane Vereen yesterday.
Borges: No defense for it - Ron Borges - Borges has his take on yesterday's game, and writes that by living on the edge, the Patriots finally fell off it Sunday in Miami.
Pats stumble as Dolphins make big plays down the stretch - Jeff Howe - Howe files his game story, and writes that for the first time in the Bill Belichick era, the Patriots lost a game when they had an AFC East championship in their grasp.
Brady on D&C: 'Frustrating all the way around' - Brady spoke to WEEI this morning and felt that Sunday's loss was frustrating, especially given the chances they had but didn't take advantage of.
Stephen Gostkowski: 'Today just wasn't my day' - Christopher Price - Price has comments from Gostkowski, who was frustrated with his performance on Sunday.
Brady: Pats not good enough to miss chances - In this report Brady talks this morning about the squandered opportunities they missed in Miami.
Upon Further Review: Patriots Week 15 - Mike Reiss - Reiss has further thoughts on week 15's results for New England.
Snaps: CB Cole was targeted quickly - Mike Reiss - Reiss has the defense's snap counts for Sunday.
Snaps: WR Josh Boyce exits with injury - Mike Reiss - Reiss looks at the snaps for the offense, with Josh Boyce playing a big role before getting hurt.
Patriots frustrated by missed opportunity - Mike Reiss - Reiss has his postgame column, which saw New England let a potential victory slip away.
Tom Brady: Giving games away makes for a long week - Nick Underhill - Underhill has additional comments from Brady this morning, who felt they moved the ball pretty good all day but just couldn't get enough points on the board.
Patriots in control of AFC's No. 2 seed following loss to Miami Dolphins - Nick Underhill - Underhill writes that after Cincinnati's loss Sunday night the Patriots remain in the hunt for the AFC's No. 2 seed.
Curran: Patriots flat out got beat by Dolphins - Tom Curran - Curran has his take on Sunday's loss, which he feels came because Miami simply outplayed them.
Esiason: Gronk Would've Made The Difference In Patriots Loss To Dolphins - Boomer Esiason spike to 98.5 this morning and felt that having Gronkowski may have been the difference in Miami Sunday.
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski spent the bulk of the offseason coming into this year rehabbing from offseason surgery on his back and forearm, and it looks like he may have to spend the next few months leading into 2014 rehabbing another significant injury as well.
On Sunday Gronkowski was hit low following a 21-yard reception that upended him and sent him crashing to the turf, with the impact from Cleveland Browns' defensive back T.J. Ward's helmet to his knee ending what had already been a long road back into New England's offense. Gronkowski would later be carted off the field, and Albert Breer of the NFL Network reports that the veteran likely suffered a torn ACL that is expected to be season ending.
Even Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who normally doesn't talk about injuries, told the media after the game that the tight end was taken to a local hospital for evaluation on the injury. When asked about whether or not he had any issue with the hit on Gronkowski's knee, he told local reporter Tom Curran that that's a question that should be taken up with the league.
He was also asked about whether or not a win like this was tempered by the loss of one of his players, and Belichick didn't deny that it's a concern.
“Anytime a player gets hurt, you never like to see that," said Belichick. "But I don’t even know what the extent of his injury is yet so I don’t want to jump to conclusions on that.”
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady told reporters later on that he and the other players each have Gronkowski in their thoughts.
"I don’t know what the circumstances are, but we’re all there with him," said Brady. "We love him, he’s a big part of this team, so we’ll see where he’s at.”
Brady said that despite the loss of one of their best offensive weapons, they just have to move forward because no one is going to feel sorry for them.
"I mean it hurts to see any of those guys go down," said Brady. "Certainly with Gronk, and we’ve sustained some pretty big injuries this year with really important, critical players, so we’ve just got to keep bouncing back. I always say, ‘no one feels sorry for the Patriots.’ I think we all feel sorry for Rob, but I don’t think anyone feels sorry for the Patriots. But we’re with him, we support him.”
It's just a tough blow for a player who worked so hard to get back to where he was and seemed to just now be hitting his stride. Gronkowski had just two receptions for 32-yards following his final catch, but his presence clearly plays a roll in the success of the guys around him. The only positive is the fact that after dealing with his absence, it's not something they're going to have to figure out.
The problem will be down the road as once again they won't have Gronkowski for a full postseason, which marks the third straight season that's been the case. Fortunately for Gronkowski he signed his extension because this would have been the final season of his rookie year, so at least he has the security of that to fall back on. Hopefully when he returns next season he'll be able to pick up where he left off, because in all likelihood he'll be just as important to this team when he hits the gridiron in 2014.
The New England Patriots defeated the Houston Texans 34-31 Sunday afternoon.
New England started slow, but fought back in the second half. The Patriots had 453 yards of total offense and 27 first downs on the afternoon. The past four games, the Patriots have scored 143 points. Since 2001, the Pats are 46-6 in the month of December.
Here is my player of the game. --
Julian Edelman: With the exception of Tom Brady, it's hard to imagine what the Pats offense would look like without Edelman this season. Edelman, who leads the Patriots in receptions, has been consistent all year and that showed again Sunday.
The 27-year-old had a big game against the Texans, with 9 catches for 101 yards. While the numbers aren't staggering, the consistency of his play was a big boost for the offense.
Edelman has been Brady's security blanket this season, helping the transition away from former players Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez along with numerous injuries on the offense throughout the year. A free agent after this season, Edelman has earned a payday. Games like this Sunday against the Texans show his value.
Edelman, now with 70 receptions on the year, has reached the maximum reception-incentive in his contract worth $250,000. Icing on the cake for No. 11.
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In the end, the New England Patriots got what they wanted in Houston as they came away with their fourth win in five games, holding on to beat the Houston Texans 34-31.
The win boosted the Patriots on the season to 9-3 and kept their lead as the #2 seed in the AFC Playoff hunt over Indianapolis who also won on Sunday and went to 8-4 with a victory over the Titans. The team also kept a three game lead over the Dolphins who beat the Jets on Sunday in the race for the AFC East crown.
But once again the Patriots were weighed down by a poor first half performance that saw the (2-10) Texans jump out to a 17-7 halftime lead and put a lot of pressure on the offense. In the last four games the Pats are averaging only nine points per game in the first half.
The defense continues to get gashed, especially by the run, but the offense in the second half bailed them out again scoring 27 points, just enough to get them past a game Houston squad. Here are some observations from Sunday's game:
Stephen Gostkowski Is As Clutch As They Come: What a year #3 is having for the Patriots. As always his kickoffs travel deep into the endzone and he only allowed two to be returned on Sunday.
After suffering only his second FG miss of the season earlier on Sunday, Gostkowski nailed two 53 yard field goals in the fourth quarter to win the game in Houston. On the road in a close game with the cruddy Reliant Stadium turf makes the task even harder but Gostkowski came through on both kicks with flying colors.
Brady is Heating Up For The Stretch Run: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is playing really sharp since getting all of weapons back in the offense, albeit one that was without Stevan Ridley and Aaron Dobson today.
Going against the #1 statistical defense against the pass, Brady shook off the team's lethargic first half to put 27 points on the board in the second, and more than double the amount of yards the Texans have been allowing on defense.
Houston entered allowing only 171.8 yards per game through the air, Brady on Sunday went a stellar 29 of 41 for 371 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT for a QB rating of 104.8. This New England offense has shook off the early season struggles and is now the #6 scoring team in the NFL.
Gronkowski and Edelman Shine Again: The New England offense is so much more potent with a healthy Rob Gronkowski and Shane Vereen in the lineup. And against the Texans, Gronkowski and Julian Edelman both had big games again for the Pats.
Edelman hauled in nine passes for 101 yards and the Gronk caught six more for 127 yards and a touchdown. Gronkowski is rapidly rounding into shape and appears his normal, unstoppable self right now. Edelman has really stepped into his role this season and now has 70 catches for the year.
Rush Defense A Big Issue: Once again the Patriots run defense was gashed...to the tune of 121 yards by the Texans with 102 coming from Ben Tate. And this time, it wasn't scheme-related. Against Denver, they played a six man box and were conceding the run to stop the pass.
Sunday, they played a lot of 3-4 and the alignments no matter who was in there, Joe Vellano, Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga played for the most part; they were pushed around in the running game, were not shedding blocks and weren't finishing tackles.
Four more games remain and this has to be addressed as soon as possible.
Pats Go Zone and Don't Fare Well: All season it seems the Patriots have played man coverage and done a good job of jamming receivers at the line. Against the Texans on Sunday and one of the rare times in 2013, the Patriots played a lot of zone coverage and the results weren't entirely positive.
They gave up far too many big plays to a 2nd year QB who leads only a middling passing game. Case Keenum's final numbers weren't great, he finished with a 50 percent completion percentage and 67 QB rating, but he passed for 271 yards and had a very good 9.1 yard per pass attempt average.
While it is only one game and the team was due for an emotional letdown after two big prime time games back-to-back, they need to do a better job down the stretch.
Ridley Sits/Thompkins Latest Injured Player: Stevan Ridley was a healthy scratch on Sunday, as a result of his fumbling issues and was replaced by LaGarrette Blount. Blount responded with 12 carries for 44 yards and a touchdown. But overall the running game was inconsistent, averaging only 3.3 yards per carry and 88 yards overall.
Kenbrell Thompkins was starting over the injured Aaron Dobson and one catch before injuring his hip in the first quarter. He in turn was replaced by Josh Boyce who had one catch but did a nice job in the kick return game.
Both of these developments will bear watching as the team moves forward and the team returns home to face a tough Cleveland defense.
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